Gustavo Costa (1930-2012)

Emeritus Professor of Italian Studies

Gustavo Costa was Professor Emeritus of Italian Studies.

Gustavo Costa took his laurea at La Sapienza, University of Rome, and a post-doctoral specialization at the Istituto per gli Studi Storici in Naples thereafter. Following brief apprenticeships in Rome and Lyon, in 1961 Costa joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, in the Department of Italian, where he served until his retirement in 1991 first as instructor, then as assistant, associate, and full professor, with two terms as department chair.

Gustavo’s scholarly accomplishments were extraordinary, both in quality and in quantity. He was certainly best known for his work on the literary, intellectual and cultural milieu of Italy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and its relationship to the European Enlightenment more generally—including Locke, Montesquieu, Descartes and many, many others). Above all he is known for his work on Giambattista Vico, the great original Neapolitan thinker whose Scienza Nuova (New Science) offered a powerful alternative to Cartesian rationalism and Enlightenment science, and whose pervasive, if often unacknowledged, influence can be traced, for example, in the great tradition of German philosophy from Hegel to Nietzsche and beyond. Gustavo Costa published as well on Dante, Pontano, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Foscolo, Mazzini, and Pirandello, among many others, displaying a mastery of the entire Italian tradition. His oeuvre includes 3 long monographic essays, 111 articles and review articles, 52 notes, and 332 reviews. His books number nine, six of which, remarkably, appeared in the years since his retirement. They are: La critica omerica di Thomas Blackwell (1701-1757)(1959); La leggenda dei secoli d’oro nella letteratura italiana (1972); Le antichità germaniche nella cultura italiana da Machiavelli a Vico (1977); Il sublime e la magia da Dante a Tasso (1994); Vico e l’Europa: Contro “la boria delle nazione” (1996); Malebranche e Roma: Documenti dell’Archivio della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede (2003); Thomas Burnet e la censura pontificia (con documenti inediti) (2006); Celestino Galiani e la Sacra Scrittura: Alle radici del pensiero napolitano del Settecento (2011); and, just appeared, Epicureismo e pederastia: Il ‘Lucrezio’ e l’ ‘Anacreonte’ di Alessandro Marchetti secondo il Sant’Uffizio (2012).

While he did not direct many dissertations (largely because of the regrettable absence of interest in the “forgotten centuries” of Italian cultural history in the American academy at that time), those students who were willing to submit themselves to his demanding scholarly standards recall him as an always stimulating, and in many ways formative influence. Costa’s vast learning and incisive intellect, his attention both to the great questions and to the crucial details of Italian culture, and his wide-ranging perspective on its interactions with the larger European context (quite rare among Italianists) were, and are, an inspiration to his colleagues and former students, as, indeed, was his extraordinary dedication to our profession, a dedication that continued to shine out until the very hour of his death.

He is survived by his widow, the scholar Natalia Costa-Zalessow, by his daughter Dora, and his grandson Alexander.